As a writing teacher for the past twenty years, I sometimes marvel at the delightful ways I’ve seen my students grow and gain confidence as writers—of all ages (I’ve taught from middle-school-aged through retirees), backgrounds (many of the students I tutor at one of my jobs are international students), and skill levels (from unpublished hobbyists through authors trying new genres at Women on Writing to English grad students). Not only has writing emerged as encouragement in their lives, but it’s become a validation and a motivation to express themselves.
I heartily believe all writers, from beginners onward, can have a deep writing practice by honoring these three facets of writing.
Honor your own experience. Many of us are caregivers to friends, children, students, parents, spouses, or neighbors. We spend years bestowing our knowledge, our compassion, and our time in service to other people’s needs, hopes, and dreams. Now it’s time for you. Journaling is a gift you give yourself and can be replenished endlessly. Pick a gorgeous journal, set a timer for ten or fifteen minutes a day, and designate a special spot as your writing ritual. If someone else reads your writing someday or if you use your journal as a jumpstart for writing ideas or projects, all good, but journaling can be your retreat, your place where you are free to write about what’s happened to you, what you have learned, what has frightened or instilled hope in you, who you have forgiven or have trouble forgiving, and where you have traveled internally and externally during your life so far. Don’t discount the value of your own life’s walk. What you have to say is important and unique to the set of circumstances you’ve had.
Honor authenticity. We all have to wear a myriad metaphorical hats in our everyday lives—sibling, coworker, student, coach, parent, friend, leader, to name just a few. Your writing should be your safe place. Instead of self-editing or writing what you think others want to hear, tap into that still small voice inside. What does that voice have to say? Remind yourself that no one can write the way you do about your unfolding life’s journey. Write thoughts as they arise like bubbles, whether painful, frustrating, or hopeful. No holds barred.
Honor imagery. Poet Wallace Stevens wrote: “Not ideas about the thing, but the thing itself.” Paradoxically, when writing an image—say about your favorite mug and its origins—your feelings and ideas will become known as you explore and explain the connection you have to that thing, person, or place. When your writing gets vague or blah, shift to describing something.
Sometimes, it’s easier to choose an image to write using a prompt than to brainstorm topics day after day. Last year, I developed two wonderfully-fun sets of cards to encourage writers.
The Portable Muse is a series of thirty varied writing prompts— some with quotations, others with a character, a snippet of dialogue, or a setting. They are portable, beautiful, and meant to inspire writing on the go, slipping easily into a bag.
I also developed, in consultation with a Licensed Professional Counselor, a series of 30 Affirmation Cards, with vivid images on one side that can be used for prompts and statements on the back to fill in, including: “I am at peace with not knowing __________,” “I don’t need __________ to be fulfilled,” and “A time I knew I was strong was __________. I am still that strong.” These prompts are meant to help fellow writers forget about self-editing and explore their best selves.
Melanie Faith’s historical poetry collection, This Passing Fever, was published by FutureCycle press in early September 2017 as well as a Regency novella similar to Jane Austen (published under a pen name by Uncial Press) in October 2017), both available at: https://www.melaniedfaith.com/etsy/ as well as at Amazon. In spring 2018, her craft book about how to write flash fiction and nonfiction, entitled In a Flash! Writing & Publishing Dynamic Flash Prose will be published by Vine Leaves Press.
She is an English professor in Southern New Hampshire University’s MA in English program, a tutor at a college-preparatory boarding school, and a freelance writing consultant for Women on Writing! and independent-study students. She is also a published photographer and a winner of the Brain Mill Press Driftless Unsolicited Cover Art Contest (2017). She holds an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte, N.C.
Melanie blogs writing tips and craft articles and adds to her photography portfolio at: https://www.melaniedfaith.com. Assisting writers at all stages of their journeys brings her joy as well as collecting quotes and books and spending time with her darling nieces.